2024 in lists: Movies

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Movies: seen on TV, probably on a streaming service, or on an airplane

  • Maestro: First film of 2024. Choices are always to be made in telling someone’s complex life but I enjoyed this interesting telling of the famous composer and conductor and found Carey Mulligan and Bradley Cooper watchable and magnetic. 
  • Saltburn: Some critics are apparently asking, ‘What was the point?’ but I couldn’t keep my eyes from the screen. This was never boring. 
  • Good Grief: A fan of Schitt’s Creek, I really wanted to like Daniel Levy’s debut film, but it asks too much of a viewer, to feel for these characters and to explore grief when we’re given so little to work with: pretty images of Paris, tons of pornographic signs of wealth, a sad, sad soundtrack, and various themed songs. The dialogue rang false to me, though the two sidekicks did their best with what they were given. 
  • Nuovo Olimpo: A romantic, nostalgic film, set in Rome, about a short, passionate gay romance and then decades of melancholy. I loved it. 
  • No Hard Feelings: Jennifer Lawrence and Andrew Barth Feldman: I kept waiting for the movie to fall apart but I thought the acting perfect and charismatic and that the film was very, very funny. I needed a light film to watch during a Sydney heatwave and this was a good one. 
  • A Haunting in Venice: And why not? A Hercule Poirot mystery set in a murky, wet and atmospheric Venice, with a wonderful cast. I liked the intrusions of the supernatural and most of all, Venice. And that moustache. 
  • The Lobster: Whoah. I liked Poor Things so much, I thought I’d check out the Lobster. Amazing premise. Hilarious scenes and to start with, some sharp satire, I thought. But then it totally loses it’s way when I was hoping for a strong finish. 
  • Tár: As usual, Cate Blanchett is magnetic. And what a story. A cerebral entry to the world of classical music, to start with, and then … a story that takes the typical story of an abusive, powerful womaniser, and makes him a her. Raising interesting questions along the way. 
  • Talk to Me: Horror films aren’t my thing but I’d heard about how successful this Australian film was, and I think Sophie Wilde, the lead, is an amazing actor. And I loved this: a good premise, good storytelling, creepy as hell. 

Movies (seen in the cinema)

  • All of Us Strangers: A good first pick for a film seen in the cinema for 2024. Though is this categorisation silly. I basically hived off movies from television and theatre, because we saw so many last year, but then most of those were on streaming services. In any case, I thought Andrew Scott’s acting was so beautiful in this. Paul Mescal is always watchable. And Claire Foy and Jamie Bell: also fantastic. An interesting melancholy meditation on loss and feeling you never fit in. A slow pace, like Haigh’s Weekend, and I got mixed up with the plot, perhaps getting so emotionally involved, I sort of drifted off into what I wanted to happen then what the story was telling me. 
  • Next Goal Wins: My mate Tom from England, who is a sports fan, booked in for this and then couldn’t make it to Sydney to see it. So Stevie and I saw it at the outdoors cinema on the Harbour, with a meal beforehand at the specially built restaurant! Couldn’t have been a more spectacular setting to see this fun film. The story and plotting was shaggy, but we enjoyed it just fine (I see pretty mediocre reviews though; honestly, most films I just want to generally be entertained so am less critical than I used to be). 
  • Poor Things: I don’t think I’ve seen a similar film and I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Everything about it – the sets, the music, the odd filming techniques, the acting, the costumes and particularly the script, the funny wordplay of a baby’s brain become adult – I loved it. Still a bit speechless. The weirdest hero’s journey ever.

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2024 in lists: Musicals, theatre, concerts, books and exhibitions

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Musicals and theatre

  • An Evening With: The First Ten Years, Hayes Theatre: What a night! Chockful of Hayes Theatre’s most talented and established performers in a celebratory concert and cabaret.
  • & Juliet: This was awfully fun, and we had to see it when it came to Sydney! I mostly left with admiration for Max Martin’s songwriting! Husband LOVED it and it was a great night. 
  • Tell me on a Sunday: A little-known one-woman show by Andrew Lloyd Webber, I found the orchestration and story pretty old-fashioned, and a depressingly male view of a young independent woman (breaks up because of being cheated on, hooks up with a Hollywood producer who treats her as a trophy wife, gets involved with another cheater, and then a married man). But Erin Clare has it all: a beautiful voice, acting chops and physical beauty. She’s a dynamo and made the show enjoyable. 
  • Reuben Kaye’s Apocalipstik at the Enmore Theatre, part of the Sydney Comedy Festival. This man is witty, intelligent, funny and political, in all the right ways. The last time we saw him was at the Seymour Centre, a small venue, and he hugged everyone coming in! So, I love his … personal touch … and glad to see him playing to such big audiences these days!
  • No Pay? No Way!, Sydney Theatre Company: An Australian adaptation of an apparently classic Italian comic play, I didn’t expect to enjoy this as much as I did: fantastic performances, cracking dialogue, and very, very funny. So glad we saw this. 

Concerts

  • The Human League, Enmore Theatre: I discovered that I knew fewer of their songs than I thought, and I thought Phil Oakey was quite shouty and they didn’t have the mikes high enough on for Susan Ann and Joanne. But I adored hearing ‘Human’, ‘Fascination’, ‘Don’t you want me?’ and ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ live. And what a specific demographic. All 50 to 60 year olds, and a smattering of their kids.
  • Rickie Lee Jones, the Factory: I last saw Rickie Lee 8 years ago at the same venue. I think this one had an even better vibe: the crowd loved her. Her voice is as unique and strange as ever. And those songs! What a songwriter. I find it strange that with such a different life experience to me, and yet I find her musical so touching emotionally. I cried when she sang ‘Horses’. 

Books

  • Robertson Davies’ The Deptford Trilogy. A Canadian classic that I’d never read. The reason, I remembered, as a young, cocky university student, was that I was interested in reading about more contemporary experiences, and these books, stretching back to World War I, didn’t appeal. But what did I know? Coming back to the books now, I was simply delighted by the storytelling and characters and the shifting points of view. While the book cover touts a mystery to be solved, I wasn’t driven forward by that anticipation: I was just enjoying the story. I can’t return the book to the friend that lent it to me without recording one of the sentences here that made me laugh: ‘You’re all mad for words. Words are just farts from a lot of fools who have swallowed too many books.’  And now that I no longer live in Canada, it was a pleasure to revisit the Canadian cities and towns, from Peterborough where I went to university (and where Davies was a newspaper editor) to Vancouver, where I was born and where the English theatre troupe plays in during their tour.
  • Stuart Barnes’s Like to the Lark. Vulnerability in poetry lends itself to the free-verse confessional, so it’s a wonderful juxtaposition (for me, at least) to see such playfulness of form matched with the open heart and a deep pool of emotion. Of course, there’s much more in this collection, and I think the other reviews here do the work justice. It’s engaging, innovative and a very contemporary voice. Bravo, I say.
  • Sharon Olds’ Stag’s Leap. 
  • Thomas Kevin Dolan’s ‘Little Fag: A Journey of Self-Acceptance and Healing‘.
  • George Orwell’s Animal Farm: A friend, James, gave me this as a gift, as it’s his favourite book. It was a strange experience reading it as I knew so much of it already from popular culture, but I don’t think I’d actually read it before. It is a chilling reflection of politics. While it may have been portraying Stalin, Trotsky and Lenin, current world leaders are using the same techniques of control and corruption.
  • Josh Stenberg’s nibs & nubs. My pal, Josh, has published his first poetry collection. Find it here.
  • Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth. Because I loved two of Jennifer Egan’s books SO much, when I read that this is one of her favourite books, I thought I’d give it a try. About a woman trapped by social conventions and expectations during the Gilded Age, it is beautifully written, and while it is set in such a different time, some themes seemed as relevant today: the social machinations and cruelties, the expectations on women. I found it a timeless disturbing trap, the way Wharton’s heroine internalises values that don’t serve her, and in the end, I found it a depressing read because of it.
  • Michael V. Smith’s Queers like me: Many, many years ago, I spent a season in Vancouver hanging out with two other young gay writers, Michael and George Ilsley. I love that we all went on to have books published and I love that Michael is still writing honest and intimate poetry like in his latest collection.

Exhibitions

  • The Art of Banksy: “Without Limits”. I’m so glad I got off my (sometimes) lazy arse and took myself to this exhibit. I’d read a lot about Banksy over the years and seen various images, but never really paid that much attention. I think he’s a really interesting artist, capturing movement and gesture, and most of all, protest, primarily in stencil-based images. And I admire that he’s travelled to Gaza and Ukraine, making art there, and funding a boat to rescue refugees in the Mediterranean. 

 

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2024 in lists: Television

A work in progress. 

Television

    • The Crown, Season 6. We finally finished the last season of the Crown. While I appreciated the acting, particularly of Elizabeth Debecki and Imelda Staunton, it all felt a little too intrusive to me, the fact that many of the people portrayed are still alive, and the series is proposing stories about them which may be true (or not at all). Couldn’t miss watching it after watching and enjoying the other seasons, though. 
    • Fellow Travelers. Familiar with gay history, while I was looking forward to this show, I was also apprehensive. Would they get parts wrong? Could they tell such complex social histories well? I was very impressed all in all, with a real jigsaw puzzle of timelines that worked, and the two lead performances, which were compelling (and of course, they were very handsome). We really enjoyed this. 
    • Berlin. I watched 3 episodes and they were so bad that I wondered why House of Paper (Casa del Papel) was so good. But I remember: a great premise, magnetic characters, suspense and smart storytelling. None of which Berlin has. Of note: weird music video sequences with the characters excessively happy and mugging for the camera. Or Bruce, flirting with Keila, and saying he likes to ask himself whether his female objects of desire shave their pubic hair. Or not. WTF? 
    • Deadloch. We were superfans of Iceland’s Trapped and the amazing series ‘The Bridge’ so a Tasmania-set parody, with not just similar but almost exact recreations of the suspenseful and mournful music, the red herrings, the partnership between opposites, the quirky minor characters: all of this delighted me at almost a subconscious level. A good thing, since I also found the farce too much: that most characters spoke with the same voice and the same slang; that nearly all had an obsession with talking about genitals, shit and lesbians. That the episodes were a bit too long and that the characters’ quirks overstretched beyond farce to bloody annoying and utterly illogical. But overall: quite amusing. 
    • Boy Swallows Universe. The last episode was so weird and implausible that I had to look up what others were saying and they agreed (including a review of the book, which explains why they put it in the TV show). But it wasn’t so bad that it cancelled out a fair bit of enjoyment: a real sense of place, a milieu that I was unfamiliar with, some cracking Aussie dialogue, and great performances. The juxtaposition of a boy’s adventure tale with such violence of gangland mafia and drug addiction and dealing was jarring though.
    • Everything Now. Somewhere around 1991, I saw the movie ‘Flirting’, an Aussie coming-of-age story, and I loved it. The awkward main character and the sophisticated love interest, played by Thandiwe Newton. So, I always remembered her. Her daughter, Ripley Parker, only 23, is the creator and main writer of ‘Everything Now’, which I watched initially to check out the lead actor, Sophie Wilde, since she came for a reiki treatment! And I love the show. It’s like a more sophisticated and real version of Sex Education. The performances are amazing and the script complex. I thought it was really, really good TV. 
    • Sex Education, Season 4: I really did enjoy the early seasons of this show. I was charmed by the characters and happily shocked by how frank and open the show was about issues around sex and identity for young people. But this season, there are new characters and they and the old ones EACH get a storyline and the formidable Gillian Anderson spends the whole season in post-natal depression. It was a series of issues more than stories – bullying, transgender identity, religion and queer identity, asexuals, post-natal depression, sibling rivalry, sex counsellor rivalry, coercive behaviour, the cost of top surgery, adoption, a cancer scare, disability and accessibility, addiction, the loss of a parent. I was bored and disappointed. 
    • Expats: Having loved Lulu Wang’s gentle and moving film, The Farewell, I was primed to see this, in a setting that I’ve observed but not seen portrayed on TV: expat life in Hong Kong, with Filipino maids and wealthy Westerners. I loved parts of it, especially the feature-length episode focusing on the maids. Such diversity portrayed: different cultures, different languages and different classes. But I didn’t love all the series. 
    • Three Body Problem. Having read the book, the first one at least, I was very curious how they’d adapt it (and I loved Game of Thrones). Like the book, the science part is so complex that you just have to go with it. But I’m glad they tried to humanise the story, as I found it mighty impersonal and mental in the book. And like the book, it was disappointing to watch eight episodes with little resolve or idea of what’s going to happen next. 
    • Supersex. We thought that this would be like the Spanish series, Veneno, unapologetic about sex and sexual identity and infused with Latin passion. And some of the actors are very charismatic, including the lead. But I found this series more and more tawdry. So much focus on the brother, an unlikeable violent drunk, and a message becoming clear that straight male sexuality is pretty much uncontrollable: we lost our patience and liking for this. 
    • Baby Reindeer: Did that really just happen? I kept asking how this was brought to TV, how the writer would show not just his traumatising experiences, but his host of bad decisions. But I read Netflix asked if he wanted to do it, based on some of his stage shows, and he is an artist, a confessional artist. A harrowing watch and I think useful for the world, to see the sexual assault of a man and the aftermath. It’s quite a trick though: with the word ‘comedian’ in the description, you’d think it would be funny, but there was really nothing funny about this. 
    • Mary and George: Julianne Moore was amazing and Nicholas Galitzine held his own but this series didn’t grab me as much as it should have. A dark time, the early 17th century.

Documentaries and Reality Television

    • Queer Eye, Season 8: We’ve been faithful watchers of this reboot from the beginning, and while husband cried pretty much every episode, I was unmoved. I didn’t fall in love with the heroes, as usual, and I often disagreed with various decisions. I used to love Tan’s fashion advice but have somehow become bored with it. Karamo’s therapy: shout it out! shake it out! doesn’t work for me at all. So, I’m likely to take a permanent break from this one when it comes back without Bobby (who did all the heavy lifting anyways).
    • Great Pottery Throw Down, Season 7: British reality shows astonish me. In North America and Australia, people are generally after fame and making monetary deals, and the winners get $$$ and merchandise. So, to see a group of nice, interesting, kind people, doing what they love, in front of quirky judges, for the chance to win … a ceramic trophy and a bunch of flowers, is such a down-to-earth and humble experience. And I love Rose, the kiln technician. It’s got to be one of the most positive representations of transgender people on TV, because it doesn’t focus on her identity. She just does her work, brilliantly, while everyone treats everyone else with respect, kindness and support. 
    • Blown Away, Season 4: I’ve always loved this show, as the material is so beautiful and it’s a pleasure to learn about what makes a great piece. This season, with a new host, has the most breakages and the largest pieces yet. It’s harrowing!
    • Great Canadian Pottery Throw Down, Season 1: As a Canadian playing with clay, already a fan of the pottery throw downs, and from Vancouver, where the series was filmed, this was a LOT of fun for me to watch. 
    • Physical 100, Underground: When I was a kid in Vancouver, Canada, they used to have a show called ‘Battle of the Network Stars’, where they’d take attractive actors from the current popular shows and have them compete in athletic races, like a school sports day. I liked it. Those were the days I discovered superhero comic books, and there was this interesting framework about whose particular powers or attributes would allow them to win battlers against others. Flash forward to 2024, and this is what I remembered watching this Korean athletic competition. There is something interesting about seeing contests between firemen and secret service agents and weightlifters and wrestlers, and a category not known when I was a child: crossfitters. It’s also really interesting to see the Korean culture. I don’t think this show would work in the Western world: the egos and competition would be unpleasant to watch. But these Korean athletes, at the top of their game, often, are so humble, and kind to each other. At the same time, episodes could really drag on. We were glad when it was over.
    • Survivor USA, Season 46: I’ve always found the storytelling in this series outstanding, so much so that while I didn’t really fall in love with many of the players this year, I still loved the story.

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2023 in lists: Musicals, theatre, concerts, books and exhibitions

Musicals and theatre

  • La Cage Aux Folles, The Concourse, Chatswood: I was surprised at how silly and old-fashioned this musical was, and to find out what a huge success it was at the time. Times change, I guess. 
  • Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, the Capitol Theatre: Listen, the cast are enthusiastic and super-talented, but I think this is a dog of a show.
  • Tick, tick … boom! Lyric Theatre. I was very interested to see this show compared to the Netflix version. Interesting to see Hugh Sheridan, who I think is very talented, try to embody Jonathan Larsen. It’s an odd show with not much story or coherence, though you can hear, see and feel the flashes of brilliance that later made Rent a worldwide phenomenon. The other cast members were great but Elenoa Rokobaro was a sensation.
  • Into the Woods. Belvoir. Bogans behind us talking during the play and songs (I told them to please stop talking at intermission and boy, were they hostile) and someone in front of us fricking texting during the show. Fark! But it wasn’t enough to dim my love for this musical and some sensational performances. It really is one of my all-time favourites. 
  • City of Angels. Hayes Theatre. I’ve known the song ‘You’re Nothing Without Me’ for more than 20 years, but have never seen the musical it came from. And what a delight it was. Funny, clever and busy, with dense, witty lyrics and joyous music. The assembled cast, as always at Hayes, is hugely talented and charismatic. 
  • Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, Darlinghurst Theatre. I really, really liked this. The multi-instrumentalist and multitalented cast, the staging, the music. I enjoyed it so much, I was OK with the story, which was sort of meh, and marvelled at how the vibe and talent outweighed it. The musical reminded me a bit of Sunday in the Park with George, where the plot was about art and being an artist, and this was about existing and being alive. 
  • Murder for Two, Hayes Theatre. It felt like this crazy musical was written by a pair of extremely talented friends who were having a ball doing it. What’s surprising was that it could be recreated, and so successfully, considering the talent that it takes to put it on: two actors who can both play piano really well and then act and sing and one of them doing more than a dozen characters. This conceit never faltered, and Gabi and Maverick were so amazing. The audience LOVED it, and so did we.
  • The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Hayes Theatre. I saw a production of this years ago in Sydney, at the Seymour Centre, but when was it? 2015? It feels longer ago than that, but since this musical hit Broadway in 2005, it must have been well after that. No matter. I’d forgotten that it is nearly a perfect musical. It’s very funny and engaging, and moves along at a quick pace. Interestingly, all the songs are in the service of carrying the story forward. They’re tuneful and fun but I’m not sure if any stand on their own outside the musical. The cast was amazing. The only minor quibble is that I didn’t feel as emotionally moved, as with some shows, but it wasn’t really that kind of musical. Really: this was quite perfect. 
  • The Dismissal. Seymour Centre. Very, very impressive to turn a political event into a musical, with amazing songs and performances. Not being so familiar with Gough Whitlam’s Dismissal, I found some of it not aimed at me, as it had the feeling of a big in-joke, and some of the storytelling was unnecessary and faltered (like the video and television montages). But all in all, entertaining and quite amazing. 
  • A Little Night Music, Hayes Theatre. I always love the productions at the Hayes Theatre and this was not an exception. Great casting and performances and staging. I find the material dour (a friend said it’s a bedroom farce, but it’s not light like a farce) but loved seeing a production up close (rather than when I saw Bernadette Peters on Broadway). Seeing Nancy Hayes at the theatre named after her perform (wonderfully) and die on stage was … a highlight. 
  • The Face of Jizo, The Old Fitz. A Japanese play from 2001 about surviving Hiroshima; a friend directed and starred in it. Poignant, in this time of war, and thinking of the bombs coming down on Gaza as the play talked about the bombing of Hiroshima. 
  • Light, Hayes Theatre. I saw Act 1 of a development presentation of a new musical about South Asian Australians. The first time it was presented to an audience but it was really fun: full of talent and charm. I hope it goes further. 
  • If/Then, Neglected Musicals and Hayes Theatre. An on-the-book production of a musical I’ve heard about and was interested (because of Idina, of course). Blown away by talent and how polished the performances were with limited preparation. And as with ‘Next to Normal’, I found the music and vocal arrangements beautiful and stirring … and yet, the songs are always in service to the story. I wish at least one could be made universal and sung outside the show. I think the idea of it all fell apart in the second act. It was too glum, really, two realities ending so badly, with only a moment of hope at the end, and so much New York City neuroses and anxiety. 
  • Murder for Two: Christmas Edition, Hayes Theatre. A friend from out of town wanted to see an interesting show, and I took him to this, though I’d seen it before. Kala Gare is great as Marcus (as was Gabbi Bolt) but I think Maverick is even better now that he knows the role(s) so well. He is an absolute star; I hope everyone who hasn’t seen Murder for Two will find this out too, and soon.
  • Trevor Ashley’s The White Mermaid or The Little Lotus: A Musical Fable. Trevor is apparently off to London for a year or two, so it was good to catch his annual Christmas panto, where he did a wicked Jennifer Coolidge impersonation and enlisted Carlotta and three talented beefcakes to do what he does best: make us laugh. 

Concerts

  • Lil Nas X: A We’re not really fans but wanted to see the phenomenon, and it was a phenomenon! A sold-out concert with a very diverse crowd, including children, who all seemed to know all the words to the song. Being at the Hordern Pavilion, I couldn’t see much from where we were; I’d plan better next time to try to grab a seat at the side. All in all, I’m amazed and pleased that a gay black rapper and musician has become so popular and loved. 
  • Ásgeir, City Recital Hall. I always liked this Icelandic singer but didn’t expect him to be even better live. His voice was even more interesting and emotional, the orchestrations were punchy and tight. He sounded both very contemporary and like the first folk pop music that I heard that made my young heart ping with delight.
  • Ottoman Baroque. The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra with the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlana Foundation. A mix of modern choral music, interpreting Rumi’s ‘This Marriage’, and traditional Ottoman-Turkish music then a religious Mevlevi ceremony. And we saw it here in Sydney instead of Istanbul! A curious evening. 
  • Culture Club with special guests Berlin. My friend Freddy booked these tickets but couldn’t go so I went with his husband. Our seats were a little too far back to feel very engaged but the crowd seemed to love it. 
  • Taylor Mac’s and Matt Ray’s Bark of Millions, Sydney Opera House. I watched nearly all of this marvelling that I was enjoying myself so much and yet had no idea what was going on. It would have helped to have read something in advance: 54 songs about queer icons, one for every year since Stonewall. Mac describes the show as sort of a trance, and that’s what it was: just giving into the pleasures of amazing artists, varied and beautiful music and song and the most colourful costumes ever.
  • Cécile McLorin Salvant, City Recital Hall. A friend suggested checking her out and I listened to some songs on Spotify and found them interesting. But live was another thing all together. We were completely blown away. Her voice is a magnificent instrument, technically amazing, but never losing its warmth and emotion. Backed by three amazing musicians, this was one of those concerts where I felt grateful and amazed to experience a live performance and become a fan.
  • Nat Bartsch, Phoenix Central Park. What a great thing to discover a musician you LOVE for the first time. I adore her music: it’s beautiful and melodic and hits me in all the right ways. A talented band. And in such a beautiful space. 
  • Sophie Hutchings, City Recital Hall, Sydney: Such beautiful music and she’s Australian, right under my nose, and I hadn’t heard of her. But is making exactly the kind of music I love, piano-based with beautiful, quiet, contemplative melodies. 
  • Jimmy Webb, City Recital Hall, Sydney: Legendary songwriter of MacArthur Park, By The Time I Get to Phoenix and Wichita Lineman (and a favourite of mine, If These Walls Could Speak), Jimmy is still telling stories and singing at 77 years old. I’m used to these days being one of the oldest people in the room, but at this concert, I felt like a young ‘un. 
  • Evita Manji, Phoenix Central Park. I loved this 45-minute performance from this Athens-born artist, electronica and dance and a big of Bjork influence I’d think. Completely unique. The lighting made me feel like I was inside a video game. 

Books

  • Andrew Sean Greer’s Less is Lost. Review here.
  • Kevin Wilson’s Now is Not the Time to Panic. Review here.
  • Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem. Review here.
  • Sharon Old’s Balladz. Review here.
  • Frans Stiene’s The Way of Reiki: The Inner Teachings of Mikao Usui. 

Exhibitions

  • Sydney Modern: We finally visited the new addition to the Art Gallery of NSW and what a weird place it is. Absolutely loved some of the exhibitions and art, such as the theme of home, and the big primal sci-fi constructions in the oil tank in the basement. And yet there was no much open space and the greenery hasn’t grown. It felt in places like a convention centre. 
  • Studio A’s Rainbow, Mermaid, Fireworks: An immersive exhibition by Rosie Deacon and Emily Crockford, these artworks are joyful and colourful. 
  • Monet in Paris, Perth: These big interactive shows have been touring for a while, and I was very curious about them, with most people giving them great reviews (and the photos looking impressive). But I found it strangely unengaging and busy, a big slide show, basically. I’ve seen many of the artworks featured and my experience, when seeing them, is quiet and awe, seeing the exact colour the artist produced, and the exact scale intended. So that I was trying to feel what they saw, and see what they intended, not huge projections and a jaunty period soundtrack and sometimes live images of say, snow or leaves. I somehow did *feel* something with some of the Paris street scenes, and maybe Monet’s images of London’s Big Ben, but generally, I was more confused than engaged.

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2023 in lists: Movies

Movies (seen in the cinema)

  • Avatar: The Way of Water: I can barely remember the first one, though I saw it and I remember some of the controversy over whether people liked the computer animation or not. I liked a lot about the film, the images, the world building, but could have done without all the violent battle scenes, and the story and characterisations were really basic and juvenile. It didn’t appeal to me.
  • Triangle of Sadness: Damn it. WTF? Winning the Cannes best film award and the bonkers trailer, we thought this would be amusing. But it was chaotic and shallow, and whenever hinting at some depth of commentary or thinking, it veered away. Too nonsensical to be entertaining and the criticism of the wealthy was as shallow as it portrayed the characters to be. 
  • Oklahoma (1999). This version of Oklahoma played in London, just after I’d left London and had arrived in Australia. So I was always curious about it, and particularly Hugh Jackman’s much lauded performance. They screened this in 800 theatres around the world to coincide with the musical’s 80th anniversary. And while it is boasted that the musical is timeless, how strange to see it in today’s light. The songs, many of them, are glorious and soaring and memorable. And some of them are ridiculous and hard to make work in any context. Jackman’s charisma is amazing and he injects such life into the work. But little can be done about the wet rag character of Laurie. And Ado Annie! It’s shocking that they’ve written a brainless nymphomaniac as a main character in 1943! While we’re obviously meant to laugh AT her, I mainly thought: whut??? The viewing was 3.5 hours! A long stretch. I’m glad I saw it though.
  • Joy Ride: I loved this film. Clearly meant to entertain but with lots of inside jokes for Asian-Americans along the way. It was groundbreaking without trying very hard, and I thought it was very, very funny. 
  • Barbie: I wasn’t the target audience, and while I found Margot and Ryan engaging and charismatic, I didn’t like the film as much as I’d hoped to. On the other hand, there is something very subversive about exposing so many young girls to the concept of the patriarchy and toxic masculinity.
  • Oppenheimer: Thankfully, we did not see this at the same time as Barbie. While I thought it was a little long (and that the last part of the movie almost felt like a different film), I was really entranced by the storytelling and love that a film dealing with such big moral questions in a smart, intelligent way is being seen by so many. I think it might be raising the average IQ of the world. One of the best films I’ve seen in the last few years. 
  • Theatre Camp: The reviews were good. And we loved Ben Platt in Dear Evan Hansen. But this film made us realise that we are not the show queens we thought we were. It wasn’t terrible, but it was just so underwhelming and not funny, like an inside joke, one critic said. 
  • A Little Life: A filmed version of the English-language production of the Dutch theatrical adaptation of the book, A Little Life. Absolutely amazing acting, but condensing a huge novel to about 3.5 hours focused the entire story on the principal traumatic story and in the end, it was all a little too much (while also making me question the book, which I had been very impressed with. But is all that trauma justified in the name of art, especially when coopting the subjects of child abuse and paedophilia? The book was more exploitative than I realised while reading it).  
  • Sick of Myself: Some absolutely GREAT moments of film-making, and a funny, scary, contemporary vision of narcissism, but it was so good (and the acting, and the make-up!) that it was a disappointment that the director seemed to lose steam and there wasn’t a great ending. 
  • Stop Making Sense, remastered: How I loved this album and Talking Heads as a teenager, and I remembered liking this film, so it was fun to revisit it. David Byrne is even more charismatic and energetic a performer than I remember, and also, what a hot nerd. He wouldn’t have been my type as a teenager. I was surprised that I was really unengaged with the songs that I don’t remember, and guess I thought were filler, but hearing the big hits was magic. 
  • Napoleon: Always interesting when a movie gets such mixed reviews. I thought it was surprisingly engaging for the whole 2.5 hours where I was interested in the performances (loved Vanessa Kirby as Josephine) and impressed with the spectacle, both of war and the wealthy and powerful. It didn’t touch me, or enlighten me, but I found it enjoyable. 

Movies (seen on TV, probably on a streaming service, or on an airplane)

  • Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery: What I liked about this was how purely entertaining it was. It had no pretensions except to be enjoyable, and we did.
  • Amsterdam: The star power was incredible and I really enjoyed Christian Bale. But it was weird. When Mike Myers was on-screen, it became a Mike Myers film, and then when Robert De Niro was on-screen, it was a Robert De Niro film. The story seemed an excuse to put everyone together.
  • The Menu: Apropo of the news that the restaurant Noma is closing comes a movie that combines TV shows like Iron Chef and the Chef’s Table, the excesses of fine dining taken to a new level and combined with a dark horror show: this movie was absolutely bonkers and I loved it. 
  • Matilda, the Musical: We saw the musical in NYC one year and were interested to see how they expanded the musical into a movie. Love, love, love the music. Love everything about Emma Thompson’s performance. It’s a dark story, as bequeathed by Roald Dahl, and a lot of fun. 
  • The Big Sick: Having watched Kumail Nanjiani in Welcome to Chippendales, I wanted to see his breakthrough movie. It is superb. A story about a girlfriend in a coma, stand-up comedy and Muslim family life, it also happens to be a rom-com. Really. The writing is so smart and funny.
  • See How They Run: An amusing romp with fun actors, and probably more amusing if I’d seen ‘The Mousetrap’. 
  • Emily the Criminal: I was engaged by this, but such a dark film and a dark character: I didn’t love it. 
  • Good luck to you, Leo Grande: How can you not love Emma Thompson? But Daryl McCormack is a revelation, holding his own, in this engaging, charming, sex-positive story.
  • Don’t Worry Darling. I had heard this was good, but must have misremembered because the poor reviews align with my view. It was very pretty to look at, but it was surprisingly uninteresting and unoriginal.
  • Red, White and Royal Blue. My head is still spinning. When I was a teenager, I was starved to see gay men and gay relationships in the media. You could find them in arthouse foreign films, sometimes. No Hollywood actors were openly gay. Gay characters were usually unhappy, had bad endings, or eventually became sidekicks and snappy best friends. That the world has changed so that movies on streaming services get as much attention as those in cinemas. And that a film, much watched, can be released that is as gay and romantic as can be. With two straight actors who are not worried about playing gay roles, but just want to be ‘authentic’. The film itself was fine: silly, unchallenging and positive with attractive leads. My head is still spinning. In a good way.
  • The Banshees of Inisherin. I didn’t expect it to be so comic for much of the film, nor as dark as it got. Incredible performances. I’m glad I saw this. 
  • Cassandro. Gael García Bernal is wonderful and the subject is fascinating with great ambience. But then it doesn’t go anywhere. Not much story or character development. I’m glad I watched it but wish it was better. 
  • Erskineville Kings. Known for early performances of Hugh Jackman and Joel Edgerton, this 1998 low-budget Aussie film is a look into Aussie masculinity. It’s got a real vibe and sense of place (a bleak one) yet there’s not a lot of story to it. Interesting from a cultural viewpoint, but perhaps not a great film.
  • 10 Things I Hate About You. OK. I admit we watched the first half an hour and the last 20 minutes, and it was good to see Heath Ledger and Joseph Gordon-Levitt so young! But it’s a young person’s film, and was mostly kind of stupid. 
  • Big Lebowski. Saw this because of the great reviews and it was pretty enjoyable. And silly. 
  • Reservoir Dogs. I remember this, vaguely, and I think I saw it at the time. But why was it so popular? I could see that the storytelling was innovative for its time, it had great dialogue and acting and a lot of attitude, so not your regular heist film. Still, a film entirely of men, who are mostly racist and misogynist, it showed its age. 1992!
  • The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus: The in-laws were watching this on Blu-Ray (which is a strange effect that I’m not used to), so I watched most of it too. But I’m not a Monty Python fan. And while I was interested to see Heath Ledger, I didn’t find anything to hang onto it. It was all very hectic and the storytelling very loose.
  • Quiz Lady: What I hated the most was the wasted potential. One-dimensional cliché characters and dumb jokes. What I complain about probably once a year, that it’s very lazy writing to have the protagonist of a movie accidentally take drugs. That such a luminous, wise actor Holland Taylor is made into a complaining small-minded old woman. Also, that they didn’t show the gambling mother who escaped to Macao, perhaps giving her to Michelle Yeo to play. But I love Awkwafina and Sandra Oh, so, I’m glad I saw it, but regretful for what might have been.
  • Past Lives: I thought this was a quiet, beautiful movie, with less dialogue than I thought it would have (I think it cribbed most of the major speeches for the trailer). A lovely meditation on memory and becoming and longing. I liked it very much. 
  • The Whale: I couldn’t help but be impressed by Brendan Fraser’s performance, for which he won an Oscar. Just like putting Nicole Kidman in a prosthetic nose, or making Charlize Theron ugly, the Academy loves a transformation. But the film felt so stagey, a play turned into a movie but without additions to make it work. You can have super dramatic and one dimensional characters on stage, and simply admire the acting. It’s clear that it is a *story* that is working to have an affect on you. But movies for the most part aim for the same authenticity that Fraser’s character exhorts his students to strive for. And the lack of honesty in the characters (except for Hong Chau’s caretaker/nurse/friend) didn’t work for me. 
  • Aftersun: Watching the Whale and Aftersun on Hawaiian Airlines, it was weird but evident they were bleeping out profanities, but I didn’t realise until a day later that they cut out any sex scenes too. I wonder if this also affected my watching of Aftersun, which has rave reviews, yet is possibly not an airplane movie. I loved the natural performances of the two leads. But I found myself wondering if this was a first film (it was) and I missed understanding the main repeated trope: that the adult version of Alice is watching her father dancing in a nightclub (at the same age as the memory of the Turkish trip). The quality of the screen in the back of the airplane seat just wasn’t high enough to see what was happening. And I kept missing the dialogue: phrases said quickly and tossed away, in Scottish accents. 

Posted in Book, Concert, Exhibition, Film, Review, Theatre/Show | Leave a comment

2023 in lists: Television

A work in progress. And … a sign of the times that I am watching so much TV these days, that it’s better to make a separate post for it, and leave the movies, books and theatre in their own post.

Television

  • Wednesday: I did find this entertaining, and Jenna Ortega is a star. I found it slow in parts and that it could have been a bit better, but I don’t think I was the target audience.  
  • The Resort: This science fiction time-travelling murder mystery was called a cross between ‘White Lotus’ and ‘Murders in the Building’, so we HAD to see it. Starring William Jackson Harper, Cristin Milioti and others, this was really engaging and whacky. We quite, quite liked it. 
  • Welcome to Chippendales: A sordid tale, told with camp abandon. Some critics have been calling it shallow but I found the performances great and was drawn in.
  • Fleishman is in Trouble: Such a dark vision of middle age, at least rich, straight, Jewish middle-aged New Yorkers with kids. And never have I seen a television show (a mini-series at least) with so much narration, literary narration since it was adapted from a book (that I loved) and that it worked. I found this to be amazing television: funny, sad, transfixing, engaging and original.
  • Borgen, season 3: Husband is watching this for the first time and I’m rewatching it. Such good TV. I’m transfixed by the great actors and wonderful storytelling. This was the season where Birgitte launched a new political party, the New Democrats. Excellent.
  • Smiley: A gay Spanish rom-com, told in eight episodes, based on a play. I actually found the writing really weak in parts, but I was so charmed by some of the characters, and felt their emotion, that I’m glad we watched it. 
  • Conversations with Friends: 12 half-hour episodes of dreamy melancholy, it took me forever to get all the way through it: I found something interesting about how natural the characters were and spoke and yet, in the end, not enough happened for me, not enough developed. Asked to engage with a lead character who is supposedly such a promising writer, but is, as clearly spelled out, unemotional, inexpressive and with little self-knowledge: in the end, I wasn’t on board. 
  • The Last of Us: A mushroom zombie thriller? It reminds me in parts of the Handmaid’s Tale, and then of horror films. The gay episode was spectacular and unexpected. I didn’t like it as much as everyone else seemed to, and some parts were weaker than others, but I was still engaged.
  • Beef: I’m still processing this but I loved it in so many ways, and it totally blew my mind. 
  • In Our Blood: A four-part dramatisation of Australia’s response to HIV. Having worked in the HIV sector here, I just found it too weird to relate to: how a complex success story was translated to a play then TV with some cover versions of songs at the time and marketed as a musical. 
  • Schmigadoon, Season 2 (Schmicago): If you love musicals, golly gosh, this show is so much fun. Stepping forward from Rogers and Hammerstein into Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago, Cabaret and Sweeney Todd, the actors are clearly enjoying the hell out of themselves.
  • Poker Face. We loved Natasha Lyonne in Russian Doll and I found this really, really fun, a retro vibe, unusually episodic. Yup, I enjoyed it. 
  • Modern Love Amsterdam. I always loved the Modern Love column in NYT, but have only caught a few episodes of the American television series. But both of us love Amsterdam and our Dutch friends, and it’s surprisingly attractive to just HEAR Dutch being spoken from our television. It felt sometimes like the storytelling was culturally unfamiliar, so I didn’t ‘get’ it all the time, but all in all, the series, only six episodes, was enjoyable.
  • Only Murders in the Building, Season 3. Silly, entertaining, watchable. I love watching Martin Short and Steve Martin overact, and Selena Gomez underact. A fun season. 
  • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Season 2: Husband is the Trekkie and he’s introduced me to how fantastic Anson Mount’s hair is, and hot Spock. I enjoyed this season enough, particularly the lighter episodes. The musical episode was great, and I liked the manic cartoon mash-up with Star Trek: Lower Decks (which I am unfamiliar with). But I felt manipulated with the finale, so tonally different than the other episodes, and seeming only to exist to create a cliffhanger and make us wait until … next year (and after the writer’s strike) for the next season. 
  • Lupin, Part 3: I really enjoyed the earlier ‘parts’ of Lupin but this one not as much. Too many actions were out of character and the plot twists not believable. They seemed to be more about creating story and plot instead of being true to the character that I’ve been introduced to and charmed by. 
  • All the Light We Cannot See: These days, I don’t actually require TV to be good, just to be entertaining. So we didn’t mind this series, not having read the book, and I’m somewhat amused by how terrible the reviews are from those who liked the book. Really terrible. I couldn’t get over the device of every character speaking in accented English, no matter their nationality AND that they could understand each other automatically. That and Mark Ruffalo’s terrible contrived accent. 
  • The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart: Beautiful cinematography and I really enjoyed seeing Sigourney Weaver, Leah Purcell and the young Alice, Alyla Browne, who was astonishing. But after a few episodes, I think they lost control of the story all together, substituting coherent plot with vibe and music. Then, once you’ve got a gist of it, it was disturbing and hopeless. Pretty much every woman character has a terrible secret involving violence committed on them by one-dimensional male abusers. And if you’re not going to inject some hope (or retribution) into the story, then at least make it realistic. This almost felt exploitative in its pain. 

Documentaries and Reality Television

  • Physical: 100. I’ve always liked TV competitions, such as Gladiators or the challenges on Survivor. But this was next level. Take 100 attractive and generally interesting athletes from Korea, and combine it with Squid Game and we were completely transfixed by this. 
  • Next in Fashion, Season 2: I was a little confused that this was an all-American version as I quite liked the international flavour of the last season. But it’s very good reality TV: no drama, just enough back stories, the focus was all on the talent, and I found it engaging and informative to see what fashion looks like now. 
  • Survivor Season 44: Husband watched almost all of the latest Australian Survivor series, Heroes vs Villains, which I think is so simplistic and dumb, I could barely watch any of it. The American version is clearly the standard. They know their storytelling, the competitors are gold and they’re constantly tweaking the formula to be surprising. Go Caroline!
  • Pamela, a Love Story: I read that this was worth a watch, and it definitely is. Pamela Anderson comes across as likeable and smart, and subject to a level of trauma and abuse that makes her a real survivor. Uncomfortable to watch that her major love story was basically from taking ecstacy for the first time. Yikes.  
  • Alone Australia: I never watched the other versions of this, thinking it sounded like a bunch of grim survivalists out in the woods. But my husband’s best friend is in it, and watching it, it is sensational TV and Gina is doing so well. Go Gina! (She won…)
  • Eldorado: Everything the Nazis Hate. What a story. What stories. Expertly woven together, I found it riveting and touching. Wow. 
  • Queer Eye Season 7 lands us in New Orleans, for me an interesting setting, and the formula, tried and true, works well. I think the Fab 5 have actually upped their game: they seem generally interested in helping their heroes, give genuine and skilled life advice and I often end up crying. I saw an old episode not long ago, the trip to Austraia’s Yass, and they were not so comfortable and polished, and actually a bit frantic. I think they’ve really settled in. 
  • Project Runway All Stars, Season 20. Surprising, after 20 seasons, that unlike RuPaul’s Drag Race, which I’m over, sadly, I still love watching Project Runway. Christian seems like he’s having a ball, and I really do love seeing the talent and the fashion (the drama not so much). 
  • On Broadway. A surprisingly good documentary from 2019 that we found on SBS on demand. Describes the rise and fall of trends on Broadway, and Broadway’s popularity, coming together with cogent analysis and some great personalities helping to narrate. Enjoyable for theatre queens. 
  • Great Pottery Throw Down, Season 6. I love pottery but husband isn’t as interested. But it doesn’t matter because this is SUCH GOOD TV. Silly, fun, heart-warming and emotional. And as I’m doing ceramics now, it’s inspiring. 
  • Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy, Seasons 1 and 2. What a great find. We love Italy. We love food. Stanley is fun and charismatic. The writing on the show is really strong, not shying away from social issues. We really, really loved it. 
  • Dessert Masters, Australia. We thought we’d give this a go, and Amaury and Mel make a great team as hosts and the competitors are all pros, so the vibe is great, it’s entertaining as well as inspiring. Yum yum double gum. 
  • Out in the Ring. A documentary about LGBTQ wrestling. An interesting film though with so many people talking and so many stories, I found it not as interesting as I could have. Maybe lacked a tighter narrative or clearer story?
  • Squid Game: The Challenge. I loved the original a lot. And I love reality TV competitions. So what would this be like? Reader: I loved it. It was pure entertainment and suspense, no lessons to be learned like from food and arts reality competitions nor any moral lessons from a narrative. It was brutal and cruel (as luck and chance can be) and I found it very, very entertaining. 
  • Survivor, Season 45. We have always loved Survivor, and know that the seasons can be better or worse, depending on the players (mostly) and whatever twists and challenges come up. This season was really quite engaging and enjoyable, pretty much right from the start.

Posted in Television | 2 Comments

Book Review: Sharon Olds’ Balladz (poetry)

BalladzBalladz by Sharon Olds
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think I must have discovered Sharon Olds’ book The Gold Cell in my late teens or early twenties, and then worked my way backwards as well as reading her releases when they came out. I wanted to write poetry at the time and Olds’ work was a revelation. I could feel the literary skill gathering the words together but it was her voice—personal, intense and confessional—that supported me to believe that I could write about my own life and identity, so long as it was crafted well. The flexibility and experience of poetry could make an incident or memory even more intense or sharp or considered in its telling.

So, I find it astonishing that Olds is now 80 and still writing such dynamic work, as published in the 2022 collection Balladz. Let’s just talk about the poem, ‘His Birthday’. On her partner’s 75th birthday, Olds masturbates, and orgasms four times. I have never read such a vital declaration of an older woman’s sexual pleasure. And no one but Olds could charge the conversational confession of the poetry with an image like ‘the full chrysanthemum / in each chamber of the sex’s heart’ or ‘a spider dropping down / to fix a hypotenuse for a web’ as a metaphor for her exhausted hand.

I found the poetry in this collection to be looser, more ecstatic and stranger than before, often conflating time, jumping off from a childhood memory or a random present thought to the poem’s core subject. I loved the acknowledgement of the world outside her poems – politics – which I don’t remember from previous work. Not being familiar with Emily Dickinson, I didn’t quite ‘get’ Olds’ Dickinson ballads (named the Amherst Ballads). And as other reviewers mentioned, it feels a little surprising that the same old memories of her mother (and being tied to a chair as punishment by her parents) keep resurfacing in these poems, when elsewhere she has such an amazing ability to be so precisely, luminously in the present moment. Though one of the same reviewers said that Olds has earned the right to write about anything she wants to. I don’t mean to be judgemental but I think life would be easier and lighter to be able to lay our trauma to rest. But perhaps that’s why I’ve always been so touched by Olds’ poetry: the emotion, the complexity. And perhaps I find this collection even more touching than what came before: so much poignancy in the many ballads singing of the dead, and building, building to the most poignant, the last poems for her partner Carl.

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Hi Andy, it’s Andy

I had a routine with Andy, whether by email or phone, where I’d immediately greet him with ‘Hi Andy. It’s Andy.’ This amused me inordinately and Andy agreed, telling me once, ‘It never gets old’.

Way back in 2011, in fact this same month of July, I met Andy for the first time. I was trying to set up my business as an editor, having left my work in the HIV sector. I had done a course on Book Editing and Publishing. I’d gotten some initial work, editing reports for PwC. But at that point in time, I didn’t know how I’d make a living from editing, what my strengths were, what more I had to learn. I’d also never run my own business before, and while it was a huge relief to not be working in an organisation with all its potential bad management and fighting and rivalries among staff members, it was also daunting to strike out on my own.

My friend John said that he knew someone who worked as a copywriter and that we should meet up. We did. At the time, Andy had started a small business with a colleague, working for many different clients. The role that I could play was to edit and proofread what they wrote. It was a great way for me to start learning about the writing services required by mostly other small businesses. I learned that everyone needs an editor, including editors and copywriters. And that someone whose strength is writing engaging text, like Andy, may not be as concerned with the details of grammar and punctuation.

We did lots of bits of work together over the next years and soon enough, Andy was referring me onto other clients who needed a proofreader, and to clients that I was a better fit for, or he didn’t want to take on. Not all of them were great clients. One contact of ours had taken on the job of project managing a website, setting it up and creating it, for I think a guy who had a security company. But the guy was dodgy as hell. She eventually called up Andy to ask his advice. ‘I’m being stiffed and not getting paid by this guy. Do I still have to pay Andy for his work?’ And Andy replied, ‘Of course you have to pay Andy for his work’. We made up an unkind nickname for her and laughed for ages about her incompetence and general cluelessness.

What I’ll always be grateful to Andy for was how generous he was in sharing his experience. I really had no idea how to price my work, particularly, and he walked me through how he’d quote for a job, and charge for it. He was so generous with his contacts, and to this day, I’m still doing copyediting and proofreading for one of his referrals, a terrifically talented and creative design studio. He even, when I was setting up my reiki business, provided me with the tagline that is on the back of my postcards and that I use on my online profiles: ‘invite the wellness of reiki into your life with a treatment today’.

Andy was a huge talent, so clever and creative. I was in awe of the way that he could find the right voice for different clients, from the City of Sydney to the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation, from restaurants and food and beverage producers to tourism campaigns. He had a particular ear for a clever Aussie way of saying something, to the point of making up words that would not be found in the dictionary.

I admired his creativity outside of his work too. Years before I had met him, I had been a big fan of a comic strip that he published in the weekly gay newspaper, ‘Mr Gisby’s Totally Gay Pet Shop’. It was ridiculously funny, warped and completely original. He did skate board deck art. I found online some of his latest work, where he’d digitally printed the covers of pulp fiction novels that exploited queer identity (‘Gay Buddies’, ‘The Bashful Lesbian’) onto old-fashioned crockery, or ‘nana plates’ as he called them. He was funny, intelligent and subversive.

I also admired the life that he had created for himself. Long before the COVID exodus from Sydney of folks moving south and north, he had decided that he and his partner would move to Tasmania, which he loved, and from where he could still keep up with his work as a much-in-demand and world-class copywriter.

And now he’s gone. I just got the news a few days ago of a horrific car crash and accident in Tasmania, that happened in the late morning, almost noon. He was injured mortally and died in the hospital sometime later. If I’m being somewhat discreet by not mentioning his full name, it’s because he himself seemed to be keeping himself offline with few digital traces. When I searched for him online after hearing the news, I saw that he’d removed himself from Facebook, but not only that, he was barely to be found. His work website and LinkedIn profile are still up, but considering all the ties he had built in his new community, and his talent as an artist, I was surprised to find so little. There are also others online with his name, even another copywriter.

I’m surprised how unsettled I feel. I knew Andy more professionally than as a friend, and we weren’t close. But, as I said, I’ll always be grateful for his generosity to me while I was setting up this career, and I’m upset that he’s no longer alive in this world, prodding and needling it with his fierce humour and clever, clever voice. I don’t write outside of my work as much as I used to, but it seems appropriate to honour this talented wordsmith with words. Hi Andy. It’s Andy. I’ll miss you. Thanks for everything.

Posted in Blogging, Creative Non-Fiction, How to live, Writing | 2 Comments

Book Review: Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem

The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth’s Past, #1)The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An interesting controversy, I can see, from the reviews on Goodreads. A dear friend recommended this to me, although he said I might not like it, if I’m not into science fiction, and he warned me about the hard-going physics of it. I was excited, immediately, to discover a science fiction book set in a completely different cultural milieu than the ones I know, and particularly to read about the Cultural Revolution. I generally found the virtual reality video game stuff pretty engaging, for a while, and that part of the book had a good feeling to me, the momentum of a detective thriller. But I have to admit getting lost by the discussions of the physics problems and the characters are, as described in other reviews, not only thin, but I found very much lacking in emotion. I wasn’t engaged that a character can kill her husband and a colleague and no emotion or very little is shown. Later in the book, with plans to use technology to slice apart a ship, it felt to me like nerdy boys, divorced from reality, all talking over one another to create the plot of a complicated action movie or make something really monumental out of Lego. Near the end (luckily, having been warned that the book does not end but is only the start of a trilogy) the discussions of political and morality just didn’t come alive for me, and then the physics talk became really, really complex. I’d be willing to stick with it if there some sort of pay-off, but for me there wasn’t. There were too many removes for me to be connected or engaged: whether cultural or genre or physics. Still, it’s obvious that the trilogy has a huge readership of fans, and so there’s obviously lots of appeal. Just not for me. And with it being a literary and cultural phenomenon, I’m glad that I’ve read it so at least I know what the fans are talking about.

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Posted in Book Review, Writing | 1 Comment

Come dine with me: Dessance, Paris

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a blog post on a restaurant, but for Dessance, I’ll make an exception. With so many exceptional restaurants in Paris, I always recommend that friends treat themselves to at least one very special meal while visiting (if not more!). When I had the opportunity to be in Paris in March 2023, I decided that Dessance would be my choice.

I’ve eaten here twice before but not for at least seven years. While I could have went in search of one of the new restaurants mentioned in food guides and blogs, I decided that if Dessance was as good as it was, I’d be happy to return AND it wasn’t hard at all to make a reservation (unlike at other hotspots). I did have one moment of hesitation, wondering whether it would be awkward to be eating alone.

But I’m happy to report that Dessance is as good as I remembered. I had a spectacular meal. The service was perfect and charming. They allowed me to try to practice my French and only for a few words did I need to ask for a translation.

The menus on offer are an ‘earth & sea’ six-course tasting menu (EUR 72) or the vegetarian menu (EUR 64) and of course, I did the matching wines (EUR 39) with four glasses.  I also couldn’t resist the cheese course (EUR 15). And I would consider the amuse-bouches at the start of the meal and the petit fours at the end courses in themselves, they were so beautiful.

The restaurant itself is very beautiful. I should have taken a few photos. It’s quite small but with the mirrored wall at the back, I always think it’s bigger than it is. There are a few tables upstairs in a sort of alcove above the kitchen, and downstairs, there’s a lovely open sense of space with a super-high ceiling. It feels elegant but not stiff.

I loved all of the dishes. Looking at the photos now, they appear less beautiful than they were. The element of surprise and playfulness doesn’t come through as I often didn’t know what was in the dish until I tried it or it was explained to me. For example, this, I believe, was the pollack covered in a clementine sabayon. I’m a little embarrassed that I’m not completely sure. My note-taking on my iPhone was of mediocre quality. The larger photo above was lobster carpaccio, with an orange croustillant, a crisp, which was typical of the food here, almost always a textural element added, like roasted buckwheat or quinoa.

I always find it hard to keep track of the wine during a tasting menu like this, but I liked them all. For example, with the smoked eel, with beetroot, dill and horseradish foam (The dish at the very top of the page), I received a glass of orange wine from French Catalonia. With the cheese plate with Bleu d’Auvergne, Brillat-Savarin and Saint Nectaire (oh my god, the cheese in France!), I was served a sweet wine.

This dish of cod with dill and a broccolini tapioca was such an interesting combination of textures. And very delicious.

Something I found completely delightful (as I have at a few other restaurants) was the opportunity to watch the chefs at work during the whole meal. They move around each other in a graceful dance, and you can see how the dishes are assembled, and the expertise and artistry involved. Finally, the desserts. Rather than a rich and decadent dessert, say involving chocolate, I found it an interesting choice to serve such light desserts focused on fruit. The kiwi, aloe vera, sorrel and green pepper sorbet was refreshing and surprising. A soup of sorts!

And then a chestnut cream with tangy grapefruit and pomelo. Yup. It was very, very yummy.

I realised at the end of the meal that there was no problem at all with dining alone. I was fully engaged in tasting and enjoying each dish, sometimes closing my eyes and focusing on what was in my mouth! I enjoyed just soaking in the atmosphere and the experience, and counting myself so lucky to be able to eat such a wonderful meal at a wonderful restaurant in Paris.

The next time you’re there, I recommend you try Dessance. They’re at 74 Rue des Archives – 75003 Paris, and you can visit their website here.

Posted in Food n' Grog, France, Paris | Leave a comment